Art by David Revoy/ Blender Foundation

A Place Without Monuments and Endings

By Elliott Langley

I didn’t feed the cats.

Out of all the horrible things I have experienced today, that is what I want to tell you the most. I guess it’s almost funny when you look at it: The world is going to hell, and I’m sorry for leaving your cats hungry. I swear there should be a law against a stomach left rumbling on Judgement Day.

And the funniest part is that I am so damned sorry for not giving them food before I left your place this morning. I don’t know, I guess I was just in a rush to make the train or something, maybe thinking about picking up a sandwich on the way, where I was going to get my cup of tea before work. You know, the usual inane crap that goes around in my head. But babe, I’m British; you can forgive the necessity of tea in my morning ritual, right?

That was only this morning, you know. It feels like months have come and gone since then. Everything felt as normal as anybody expected it to; the sun rose, the night ended, and nobody had any inkling as to what the day would bring.

You were already long gone by the time I woke up, that horrible boss of yours dragging you in to work when there was no reason why you couldn’t spend another thirty minutes in bed with me. I can’t even remember leaving the flat. The bed is probably still unmade; the dishes are still in the sink caked in last night’s ravioli. I didn’t do any of the things you asked me to before you left. That note you left on the fridge, one of those little checklists of duties you leave me? Yeah, I didn’t do a single one.

And now I’m telling you that I am sorry. I am sorry I didn’t clean your apartment before I left, I am sorry I didn’t say goodbye properly, and I am sorry I didn’t feed your bloody cats.

There’s noise coming from outside, even over the music I’ve got playing. Revving engines, screaming, crashing sounds, the occasional wince of shattering glass. Every now and then I swear I can hear laughing in amongst it all, and for some reason that sends more fear through me than anything else has so far. The first time I heard it I looked out the window. I still wish I hadn’t.

The TV is on, but I’ve turned the sound down. Every now and then I put the pen down and look over at the news coming in, letting my eyes drift over the headlines and feeling the knife in my gut sink a little further. “Panic rises as the UN remains silent,”was the last one I remember seeing.

I’m at a loss for what to say about all this. In the movies they always have the lead actors spinning off deft descriptions of the apocalypse, as if they have a gland buried away under their skin that produces perfect little limericks. But to be honest, babe, I’m coming up short.

I’ve been sitting at my desk in my little studio attic, my closetas you call it, for at least an hour now. It’s taken me this long just to start writing. I wanted to come up with some fantastic piece to tell you exactly what it feels like to be at the edge of the world and to stare down into the abyss; but to be honest, I would be lying if I said it felt like anything at all. Every now and then I feel a passing wave of hysteria lurking behind my eyes, threatening to spill out like an overturned milk bottle.

You always were so clumsy. The amount of times you’ve spilled drinks in the apartment, it’s no wonder you keep asking me to clean up after you. If things were different I could find it in myself to feel annoyed at you for it, but right now all I can do is laugh.

~~~~~

It’s almost dusk outside, a deep brooding orange. It makes me want to crack open a beer and take it to the balcony, to watch as the world falls apart. I wish you were with me.

The newsreaders are mouthing at me that there have been Monument sightings over San Francisco and Boston. There’s a fuzzy, low-definition photo they keep showing us, a grey pixelated shape poking through the clouds. It could be anything, a still from some low-budget film, and yet it’s sticking acupuncture pins in my nervous system. I wonder if you are seeing the same thing as I am, wherever you are. Maybe you are staring at a screen somewhere, seeing the same hazy shot being broadcast throughout the States.

I don’t know.

I don’t want to watch the news, but I know in some way I am obliged to. Really, I have to, it would be nothing short of irresponsible to ignore what is going on. It would be like turning your back when God showed up on the day of the Second Coming and saying, “Nah, I’m busy pal. Can you come back later?”

Part of me is wondering why I am not out there looking for you, joining the crowds tearing through the streets of America, of the world, looking for whatever or whoever it is they have lost. I always found it funny when you would say “America and the rest of the world,” as if there was a divide between the two. And I suppose there is, continentally speaking. Doesn’t mean a thing now though; we’re all going down.

~~~~~

I don’t know when we started calling them Monuments. The phrase just got bandied about somewhere in the madness of today. I reckon it would be a trending topic on Twitter by now — hashtag-we-are-all-screwed-big-time — if the Internet hadn’t gone down an hour or so ago. It’s funny, life without the Internet again; it’s like we’ve regressed back into how life was in nineteen-ninety-eight. No MP3s, no downloads, no social media. I keep going to turn on my laptop like it’s a compulsive tick. We’re completely reliant on television again, and I bet even that won’t last much longer.

There are a couple new photos coming up, a little clearer than the first. They all show the same thing, shots of ridiculous great monstrosities hanging above the photographer like the underside of a great boot about to stamp down on us. The Monuments are so damn big I can’t even really grasp what I’m seeing. The clearest image is from quite a distance away; the perspective gives a decent view of the thing. It’s like an enormous hammer held above the city, hovering in the clouds, about to fall and smash it to pieces.

Are you seeing this, honey? Of course you are, they’re everywhere. This is how it ends. I don’t know where you are, but I know you’re seeing the same thing. If you’re seeing anything at all.

The point is, I didn’t feed your cats like you asked me to, and now there will never be a time when they aren’t hungry. They will die without food in their bellies when the end comes, and that is my fault. I suppose I could run out the door and across town back to your place and give them a pouch or two, though why stop there? Why not give them five? Give them a gourmet blowout on the end of days.

I keep thinking about the bottle of Jack Daniels I have under the sink, the one I slid behind the pipes and never told you about. I could just drink myself stupid like I used to in the old days and sleep through the whole bloody affair. Yeah, that’s what I do. I run away when things go wrong, just like I ran from you when everything fell apart between us. I know you still blame me. I know I sure as hell do. You know, babe, the world may be ending around us, but that doesn’t even come close to what it was like losing you.

~~~~~

Monuments sighted over Dubai, London, Berlin, Honk Kong, Quebec, the Sahara Desert. This stuff is getting real now. They’re showing us actual footage, handheld shots filmed on camera phones and tablets. Awful, impossible grey things poking their heads out through the clouds like curious animals roused from sleep. I wonder if anyone’s figured out why it’s overcast in so many of these cities today. Maybe it was written in the Bible somewhere that Judgement Day had to be as thoroughly depressing as possible.

Well, you succeeded in one thing, God; you’ve got me smoking again. There goes thirteen years of recovered lungs and lowered blood pressure, improved fertility and fresh breath. You know, babe, cigarettes may be one of the largest causes of death in the world, but damn they feel good.

I’m rambling, aren’t I? You always said I liked the sound of my own voice. Truth is, I like words. I like the way they roll off the tongue and the way the muscles in my face feel as they curve around different phrases. I know you could never understand why I kept writing even after I landed the job at the publishing house, why I didn’t just give up and focus on the dream job now that I finally had it, but — I know I’m a failed novelist, but that still makes me a wordslinger and I fully intend to draw my shooter one last time.

In my mind you’re cringing at that last sentence.

I just took a look outside, a breath of fresh air. The sunset’s gone now, and the clouds are rolling in. The sun might have disappeared, leaving us all to our ultimate fate, whatever that might entail. Nothing pleasant, I imagine.

~~~~~

Images of Monuments are flashing over the TV screen. I wonder how long it will be until one pops through the clouds here and looks down at us with ambivalence. I never imagined an alien invasion would be so bloody formal. There hasn’t been a single death threat, an issue of domination, a message of occupation, nothing. There’s no real indication anyone is even piloting the things. What I wouldn’t do for a giant squid to flash up on the screen and tell me it wants my property.

If that happened I’d probably just offer it a cigarette and maybe a Jack before it tears through my apartment or reduces me to cinders. Assuming that is what’s going to happen. That way, at least whatever or whoever comes after us can’t accuse me of inhospitality.

~~~~~

Hard to believe life seemed normal twelve hours ago. The first broadcast came just after one o’clock, just as I was finishing my lunch in the office. They tried to brush it off as weather anomalies and strange meteorological activity. Then mysterious objects entered the atmosphere, UFOs in the sky, panic erupting. You know all this, babe; you’ve seen it, wherever you are. Hell, maybe you’re even writing a letter like this one as I speak. Maybe you’re telling me about the horrible things you’ve seen.

Who am I kidding? You never wrote a single word for pleasure in your whole adult life. About the closest you came was on our first anniversary, when you wrote that little lick of love in my card, rhyming couplets and all. I never told you then just how much that meant to me, to see something come from your heart and soul and not processed from your cerebral interstices. That you had tapped into something pure and untouched and given a piece of it to me in the form of the most, frankly, terrible and derivative prose ever committed to paper.

You won’t believe me, but that was the single most beautiful piece of writing I ever read. Because it was probably the most honest thing I have ever heard come from you.

~~~~~

Monuments sighted off the coast of Greece. They’re taking place over the Arctic too. It’s not just populated areas, they’re saying. The Atlantic Ocean, even the Australian Outback is getting the Monument treatment. Whatever they are doing, you can’t say they aren’t being thorough about it. You and your analysts would probably applaud them for their strategic implementation.

The point of the writer is to make people believe in lies. Every line of fiction, no matter how autobiographical, is a lie. None of it has ever happened. I’m not writing this down to make anyone believe this ever happened. And no, I don’t possess the hubris to think that I can take the role of some poet laureate for the End of Days. But if something survives this, and I hope to God it does, then at least there will be the single account of one particularly neurotic, defensive, romantic individual to refer to.

I keep looking out the window and wondering when I’m going to see it coming through the clouds. A little while back I walked onto the balcony with a peppermint tea and watched the crowds below as they rushed to flee the city, cars jammed together, flocks of people sprinting around aimlessly, sheer and utter panic. At one point I saw another man from the apartment building across the road doing the same thing as me. He was an old boy smoking on a joint and laughing as the world went mad, and then he noticed me and gave me a tip of the hat. For a minute I thought the hitching feeling in my chest was me catching a dose of his giggles, until I realised it was the sound of my own silent sobbing.

~~~~~

April is the month where everything gets better. The long-forgotten memory of the sun becomes something less imagined. There is the hint of warmth in the air, buds on the trees, squirrels in the park. Things seem better.

It’s an injustice that the world had to end on such a fine day. We barely said goodbye this morning. I don’t think I even kissed you. I was too conscious of my atrocious breath to even give you a quick peck on the lips. Now I will never be able to do that again.

I wish I knew where you were, babe. I wish I could find you. I keep ringing your phone and getting the no-dial signal. I guess the network’s down, just like the Web. Or maybe you’re ignoring me. You were always so good at doing that, all those weeks after Maria when you wouldn’t return my calls…

Sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned her. I have a good mind to cross that last sentence out, but I just can’t.

I did come looking for you, you know, after the first broadcast. Took me half the afternoon to get across town, what with everyone going crazy. I tried calling your work; hell, I even tried to get through to your moron of a boss. I will never, ever understand what possessed you take a job with that firm. That was the day you stopped being my girl. You transformed into some kind of financial advisor android. Who knows, perhaps the aliens kidnapped and cloned you. Maybe you’re even up there now, leading the fleets like some kind of mad banshee queen.

Yeah, I’d like to see that.

You weren’t at your apartment. I knocked and knocked and you didn’t answer. The worst thing was that I could hear Klaus and Emma raking their nails against the door, trying to get through. If you had left me a damn key like you said you were going to I could have gone in and fed them. How’s that for irony? The one thing you ask me to do and I can’t do it because you don’t trust me enough.

I waited for over an hour, sat crumpled against the door with the sound of your cats howling on the other side of the wood, hoping I’d look up and you would be there. A couple of people passed me by, asked me what the hell I was doing and I just looked up at them and asked if they had anything better to do.

I should have just kicked the door down. For all I know, you could be in there now, holed up and waiting for the storm to pass. You could have been in there while I was knocking, sitting against the other side of the door with only the wood between us. Keeping quiet, afraid of who or what was out there.

Yeah, like the aliens would knock. They didn’t knock when they opened up the sky and barged through.

~~~~~

I don’t know when I decided to go home to my flat. I don’t know why I thought you would be here, why I thought you’d come to my little closet and wait for me to show up. It took a monumental effort — note the pun, darling — to lift myself up from that carpet and come back here. It was all I had, all I had to cling on to, that you might be at my place instead of yours. By then the subways were out of action. I had to walk the whole way across town to my squalid little neighbourhood.

You should have seen it, babe. You don’t realise how fragile our little world is, how thin the threads are that hold up our capitalist nation. You show people a few pixelated images of fuzzy shapes hovering above the world and they see it as an excuse to revert into cavemen. There were people fighting in the street for no reason that I could see, and it wasn’t a Hollywood brawl with clean punches and smacking sound effects. No, this was bloody, brutal animal savagery, men and women snorting and grunting like pigs as they lay into each other. Men who were still in their suits and ties from work looting from stores, flatscreen TVs tucked under an arm like an art portfolio. I had to stop myself from shouting “What the hell do you need that for?”

It’s amazing how quickly the world can deteriorate. I had to keep my eyes down as I pushed through the streets, afraid to make eye contact with anyone. All of a sudden it was like being back in England; it was not that different from being in a nightclub at two in the morning.

At one point I made eye contact with a girl, maybe seventeen years old, looked like a college student. She wore big oval glasses and a straw hat with a daisy tucked into the side. She was walking in the other direction, her eyes red with tears and wide with fear and exhaustion, worming through the crowds to get to wherever she was going. And bang, all of a sudden I’ve been pushed into her and I’ve nearly knocked her over. And do you know what, she looked up at me like I was about to rape her, her skin white and eyes frozen in terror.

Me. Docile, clumsy, dreamy old me. I held my hands up and tried to smile.

“Hey, it’s okay,” I said. “You’re all right, I didn’t mean to shove you.”

But all she could do was look at me in fear, even as she paced away she kept her eyes locked on mine just in case I might follow her. All I did was accidentally bump into her. She must have looked at me and seen a guy in a cheap suit with long hair and a scruffy beard, and thought I was everything her parents warned her about.

We are all so scared of each other babe. We’re always made to feel like we’re safe, like there’s someone out there looking after us, a god or politician or rockstar who will tell us what to do and look out for us when things go wrong. Then the Monuments show up, and there’s no one. We’re just left to scrap on the streets like dogs and wait for the end to come.

~~~~~

I’m on my ninth cigarette now. I’ve turned up the sound on the TV set, just for the company of another human being’s voice. Monuments over Yemen, Canada, Scotland, Czechoslovakia.

There is footage coming in from Boston showing helicopters going up to get a better look at the Monument. These things are huge. Are you seeing this, babe? It’s like a giant cigar hovering in the skies, a bloody great grey metal cylinder floating vertically over the ground. There’s no insignia or markings on them, just long lined indentations running down their surface. No engines or power source that I can see. No one seems to know what’s keeping them airborne.

More and more are arriving, entering the atmosphere and lining themselves up with incredible precision. It’s like a perfect array of needles, about to drop into the planet and burst it like a balloon. I keep looking outside and wondering when ours will show up.

You cannot imagine what it felt like to find you weren’t here in my apartment, sweetheart. By the time I made it across town the sun was already close to setting. The neighbourhood was all but abandoned, cars left in the middle of the road, houses with doors left wide open. Everyone tried to get out the city. I’m still wondering when the zombies are going to show up.

I was so sure you would be here. When I pushed the door open and found my apartment empty, I crumpled to the floor in a ball and wept. I wept and I wept because I knew that was it, no options left, the end of the road.

Game over.

You ridiculous woman, why couldn’t you just stay put? Are you out there now, looking for me? Maybe you were smart; maybe you left the city and went for the countryside. Maybe you are safe. Maybe you’re already gone, perhaps you’re with Maria now. Maybe the two of you are reading this pathetic letter over my shoulders and giggling at each other.

Maybe.

~~~~~

It’s arrived.

Oh my God, baby, it’s here.

It is huge.

You should see this thing. I can’t even process what it is. The base of the cylinder is wider than the entire city; I have never seen a single object take up so much mass. I am trying to write what I’m seeing, but my hand is shaking so much I’m not sure how much of this is going to be legible. The whole world has gone awfully silent outside. Either the city is empty or everyone is huddled up inside too afraid to look up at the Monument.

I’ve moved outside and I’m sitting on the balcony, my notepad perched on my knee. I am barely even looking at what I’m writing; I can’t take my eyes off this thing.

It is an oppressive matte grey. At first I thought they were made out of metal, but these things look more like stone up close. It looks so near I could touch it, but the perspective is all out of focus. When I look out at the panorama of the city even the tallest skyscrapers are miles out of reach of the Monument.

The base of the cylinder is ringed with indentations. It looks like an old gas stove or the top of a tin of beans.

You should have seen this thing when it arrived. Right before the TV cut out there was footage coming in from Washington as the Monument there took its place above the capital. New York, Tokyo, Moscow. I would not be surprised if Easter Island had its own Monument by now. I thought we were going to get off lucky, slip under the radar, and then the signal went dead and the bastard arrived.

Have you seen what I’ve seen, sweetie? Did you see one of those things push the clouds apart and penetrate the sky? Did you feel the pressure in your head as the space above was taken by one of those monstrosities? Did you feel the titanic earthquake as it descended through the heavens and took place above the city? My flat was shaking so damn hard I thought the whole building was going to come down. I’ve never experienced anything so … violent.

And now it’s doing nothing. It’s just sitting there. I don’t know how long we have left, baby. The phones are down, the TV, the Web. There’s only me now. The streets are empty, barely visible from here; the whole city is under the shadow of the Monument.

Whoever decided to call them that? What are they monuments to? Us? Planet Earth, humankind? A race of ape mutants, oblivious and underdeveloped, fragile and useless, creative and beautiful, and hopelessly optimistic?

Do they even know we’re here?

Is this what it was all for, millions of years of evolution, just to be stamped out of existence by a faceless, mindless object?

I’m trying to be calm here, babe, but it’s not working. I’m on the verge of freaking out. There is still electricity here, so I’ve done the one thing any self-respecting Brit would do: I’ve put the kettle on.

There’s something so wonderfully companionable about drinking tea. It’s so gentle and relaxed, compared to your aggressive, overcompensating, loudmouthed coffee. If anything draws the line between you and me darling, it’s our taste in hot drinks.

~~~~~

It’s so dark out I can’t even see the Monument now. The sun must have set, perhaps for the last time. At least for the last time you or I will see.

What were we thinking, you and me? Honestly, what was going through our minds when we first touched lips and allowed our hearts to talk alone? Do you know, I still remember the first time I saw you; you in your floral dress and vintage brogues, dancing under a willow tree in Hyde Park in the midst of spring. You were just lost to the world, shut off from everything and everyone, bouncing around on your feet like you were possessed by everything good in the world.

I knew I was in love with you before I even made it across to where you were dancing. Your chestnut hair. Your soft white skin. Your oceanic blue eyes.

I don’t know how you talked me into crossing the Atlantic Ocean for you, nor will I ever believe that you talked me into having a child. Stoic old me without a shred of maternal instinct in his genes, suddenly a daddy. It’s such a shame we never got to hold her, such an awful shame. I know we agreed that neither of us was ready to talk about her, but if I don’t then I will never have the chance to again.

I am sorry about Maria. It was no one’s fault, least of all yours. I guess it was just one of those odd spectres of fate that take children away from their parents.

I’m sorry we never got to see her, hold her, watch her grow.

I wish I knew where you where, babe. I tried to find you; I really tried. I know you’re never going to read this stupid letter. I doubt that anyone ever will, but if anyone should survive this horrible thing and stumble upon this worthless excuse for a goodbye, I hope they realise just how much you mean to me.

You can’t imagine what it was like when you took me back. I understand why you took the miscarriage so hard. I should have been there afterwards. I just, I just couldn’t. I don’t know. I’m weak. You needed me, and I ran away. It’s what I do. I’m amazed I’m not running now.

Hell, perhaps I’m evolving, right at the bitter end.

You were right to kick me out. The last thing you needed was a drunk stuck in the apartment, sucking what was left of you — of us — like a vampire. I never thought you would give me a second chance. I know it was just a few nights, and we weren’t really sure if you were going to let me move back in. I know we weren’t sure if we were ready, but it felt magical to wake up beside you again.

I know we never got to work it all out, and now we’ll never have a second chance. I know you still can’t bring yourself to hear her name, but I want you to know that little Maria would have been loved. Loved by her silly old dad and her beautiful mother. Who knows, wherever she is now she might be laughing about us, out there beyond the stars where there’s a place without Monuments and endings. A place where little Maria can be our little girl.

~~~~~

Something’s happening.

There are lights in the sky. They just flicked on like a streetlamp. The rings in the Monument’s base have lit up like a spotlight, bright white light. Everything’s shaking, my flat, the chair, the ground.

It’s happening.

The lights are getting brighter. I can’t even look at them. All the streets are lit up like a New Year’s Eve block party. There are people on the streets looking up at the end. I can see a couple holding hands. Everything is shaking so hard I can’t believe they can still stand up.

This is it. I’m going to take my tea and stand at the balcony and watch what comes. I’m so scared I can barely hold my pen. The lights are so bright I can feel heat coming off them. It’s like a summer night out here. For all I know this is happening all over the world. Right now.

I’m sorry you never got to read this letter. I tried. I’m sorry for Maria. I’m sorry I’m going to die alone. I’m sorry I moaned about your boss and your job. I’m sorry I didn’t feed the cats. I’m sorry I left you. I’m sorry I couldn’t find you.

I’m sorry we grew up and forgot things. We forgot each other. We let our hearts stop talking, and we lost our way, but I will find you again, on the other side of the end.

Everything is white. I can barely see. I’m going to stop writing and stand at the edge.

Close your eyes, baby.

Close your eyes and take my hand.

~~~~~

~~~~~

Elliott Langley is an SF and fantasy writer living in Suffolk, England. He spends his time dreaming, thinking, walking, reading and drinking an inordinate amount of tea. By day he cares for vulnerable adults, by night he has dreams that are more vivid than they have any right to be. His is working on various short stories and a SF novel, which will be the first in a series. His work has been shortlisted for the Aeon Award and his debut novel Room 403 is available to buy from the Amazon Kindle store. Find him online at @Elliott_Langley.

2 replies
  1. Lynden
    Lynden says:

    Well-crafted, weaving the story of the narrator’s romance and the story of the world’s end in and out of each other. Detail by detail, the back story is filled in.

    Reply

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